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Dying Vicariously

I caught myself doing it again. I had just finished watching a video of someone else’s amazing images of someone else’s amazing adventure. I sat back in my chair and sighed, as if I was reminiscing; as if I was remembering the good times I had in Antarctica. Except, I have never been to Antarctica.

This is a recurring pattern for me, and it isn’t always about adventurous vacations. I do the same things with stories of personal victory and self-discovery. Remember that time I revolutionized the way I run my business and increased my profits ten-fold? Me either, but I read a blog series about it and it almost felt like I had.

Some would call this “living vicariously”, but it doesn’t much feel like living to me. All these amazing things are occurring while I sit here in my desk chair, staring at a glowing screen.

Even Better Than the Real Thing?

Last week, I read an article: The Death of Awe in the Age of Awesome by Henry Wismayer. I was expecting a hipster whine about “how we’re, like, all looking at our phones and missing the beauty right in front of us, man,” but what I got instead was a gut check. This was a well thought out meditation on the impact of the ubiquity of amazing videos, stories, and images we have available to us every day. How do we measure the value of things when we can see the very best with a mouse click? How do we enjoy the amazing things of everyday life, when there are so much more amazing things online?

For me, the ability to watch the very best TED talks (have you ever considered how ridiculous it is that we can think some TED talks are bad?) or read hundreds of articles on any subject that I can think of … this just means I have a thousand options to “experience” change without ever changing. I can imagine myself as author, or subject. I’m borrowing other people’s success. I’m borrowing their amazing writing. I’m borrowing their adventures and amazing friendships. Rather than cultivate those things in my own life, I watch the video, read the blog or the book, check the Facebook page, and I feel better. That is what terrifies me.

I have a desire to write, but I scratch the itch by reading a friend’s well-thought out blog post. I want to be productive, so I listen to testimonials of people who used System A; but I don’t adopt System A or do anything more productive. When I crave beauty that I could seek outside my front door or even create with my own two hands, Pinterest and YouTube have me covered.

But I know it is not the same. I know better, but I keep on using. Like an addict.

The Fear Behind it All

Imposter Syndrome describes a particular phenomenon where, despite evidence to the contrary, people feel like they are pretending, that their success, artistic creation, idea, or accomplishment is somehow “less than.” Essentially, my stuff doesn’t count, but everybody else’s does.

The Internet will feed that fear, no problem. You think you have that song finally worked out on guitar? Here’s a video of a 4 year old playing it with his feet. Pleased with that meal you just cooked? I’ve got a collection of Pinterest pins that will remind you that you plating skills are sub-par. Think you write well? Think you have a rich spiritual life? Think you are funny? Blogs A through Z will help you remember your place.

This internet, which I adore, erased all the borders. Where you used to be able to be the best singer (or cartoonist, or poet, or cook) in town (or your church, or your school, or your county), now you are pretty good … but have you seen that foot guitar kid on YouTube? In a world that used to be able to contain hundreds of thousands of really amazing [fill in the blank], now you need to rank Top 100 globally.

And every time I watch that video, read that post, pin that recipe, or peruse that Flickr account, I think I am scratching an itch to create or take a risk. I think I am participating in the great drama of life, but I am a spectator. What I am really doing is reinforcing my fears: I’m not as good a writer as this friend. So-and-so is so much more poetic than I. That couple is really making a difference while I sit at home.

“Are you a born writer? Were you put on earth to be a painter, a scientist, an apostle of peace? In the end the question can only be answered by action.

Do it or don’t do it.”

– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

This is the punchline you probably saw coming: you can buy into the lies, believe the Imposter’s voice, and pack it in because you don’t measure up. Or you can put the yardstick away, stop measuring things, and sing your song because it is your song.

That is my takeaway from a week’s worth of navel gazing. Am I writer? Do I write a blog? I am, and I do, when I put words on the screen and click “Publish.” I want to take the amazing videos, beautiful photos, witty tweets, and every other thing that could easily become a roadblock; I want to turn it into fuel. Signposts on a not-so-distant horizon that whisper “join us”. So tonight, I write. Tomorrow, too. I’ll code a bit. I’ll take pictures of tulips this week.

In the end, it’s all I can do. And do it, I will.

Steven Pressfield also talks about the Resistance, and pushing through it by doing the work. Are you pushing through to the other side on something?

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